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The birth of Northern Ireland and a big “if only”


In an ideal world we wouldn’t have states. But we don’t live in an ideal world and so we do have states and the borders that exist between them.

In the run up to the First World War state power was on the rise. For reasons I don’t entirely understand but I suspect are related, nationalist movements were springing up all over the world. Irish nationalism was one of them.

In 1912 the British government, which was dependent on Irish nationalist support began its third attempt to grant Home Rule to Ireland. This would have given Ireland a similar status to the one Scotland enjoys today – autonomy but not independence. Unionists objected.

On 1 January 1913 Edward Carson, the leader of Irish unionism, moved an amendment to exclude Ulster. This can’t have been easy for a man who as MP for Dublin University represented a non-Ulster constituency. It is significant because it marks the moment when Unionists accepted that Home Rule in some form was going to happen. What they were trying to do was to salvage something – as they would have seen it – from the wreckage.

The Times of 2 January 1913 explained the situation:

Ireland is a geographical expression. Statesmen have to deal with things as they are, not with the names of things, if they wish their work to stand. Politically, socially, and economically there are two distinct communities inside the geographical area we call Ireland. These two are not merely different, but sharply opposed in their ways, their ideals, their character, and their material conditions.

This is something that was recently echoed by Ruth Dudley-Edwards:

As a Dubliner from Catholic, nationalist stock (albeit by then an atheist), the biggest problem I faced when I began to cover Northern Ireland as a journalist two decades ago was that I couldn’t understand the thought-processes of most Protestant unionists. It took me a while to grasp that one of the biggest differences between the two tribes is that Catholics are naturally hierarchical, and Protestants aren’t.

John Redmond (leader of the nationalists) thought exclusion was absurd.

The proposal for the exclusion of the four counties of Ulster had some characteristics which enabled men to use more or less plausible arguments in its favour. But, if they were to give Unionist representation to these four counties, why not also give representation to the Nationalist minorities in Belfast?

Frankly I rather wish he’d been taken up on his suggestion. But anyway, the disturbing part is that he didn’t accept Ulster’s exclusion. Why not? Was it really so difficult to accept that there are two nations in Ireland and still are? Was it really so difficult to accept that if the Irish had a right to independence from Britain then the Ulster British had a right to independence from Ireland? Had Redmond accepted it he would have saved us all a lot of trouble. There would have been no Rising in 1916, no martyrs, no IRA campaign and no subsequent myth that the IRA were responsible for Ireland’s independence.

So, why the resistance to Ulster’s exclusion? Money may have been a factor. Then, as now, Ulster was much richer than the rest of the island. Revenge may have been another. This would have been revenge for lands nationalists felt they had lost three hundred years previously, although one dreads to think quite what form this revenge might have taken.

One of the baffling aspects of what was going on was the utter refusal of the British government to take note of the strength of opinion in Ulster. Half a million people signed the Ulster Covenant committing themselves to resisting Home Rule. The following 18 months would see large-scale gun-running, the foundation of an Ulster militia and an army “mutiny”.

Bringing this all up to date a recent poll suggested that only 7% of Northern Ireland’s population want unification with the Republic immediately and only 32% in 20 years’ time. It does rather beg the question why 45% or so vote for explicitly nationalist parties.

By the way I couldn’t help noticing that this historic parliamentary debate took place on New Year’s Day. In 2013, the politicians didn’t turn up until the 7th.

Examples of spectacular historical ignorance

It has emerged that the Provisional IRA, rather than its deniable offshoot the South Armagh Republican Action Force, was responsible for the 1976 Kingsmills Massacre. If you do not know about that event, the grim story is here.

On 5 January 1976, the 10 textile workers were travelling home from work in the dark and rain on a minibus in the heart of rural County Armagh.


A man asked their religions. There was only one Catholic left on the bus. He was identified and ordered away from his Protestant work mates. He was able to run off.

The lead gunman spoke one other word – “Right” – and the shooting began.

Mr Black was the only one to survive.

It seems almost indecent to let such an event be the starting point for a more general line of thought, but that is the way the mind works sometimes.

I had remembered the Kingsmills massacre. The last question put to the men and the awful choice of what to answer when you did not know whether the terrorists asking were Loyalist or Republican had stuck in my mind. Today I have advanced a little further in knowledge: I now know that analysis of the guns used confirms that it most likely was the IRA after all. The thing is, though, that my level of knowledge, which I tend to think of as average, is actually way above average. I have known for three decades that this massacre occurred. I knew that a few days previously five Catholics had been murdered and that the Kingsmills massacre was carried out in reprisal for this. And here’s the point, I know that there are Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, Republicans and Loyalists, and could give you a basic account of which side is which and how that situation came to be.

My own background is Irish Catholic. My family loathed the IRA. So I grew up paying a slightly above average amount of attention to Northern Ireland and I noticed over the years that plenty of people in the world literally did not know that there were any Protestants there. These people thought that that it was a case of “the English” occupying Ireland. Partisans on the Republican side also spoke thus, but selective rather than complete ignorance was their problem, as it was for partisans on the Loyalist side. The way in which those soaked in the history of a conflict can blank out the other side and talk of “the people” when they mean “our people” is tragic but a quite different phenomenon from that of ordinarily well educated members of society who simply have no idea – but not, alas, no opinion.

I have explained the existence of a Protestant population in bad French and worse Italian. I remember reading of angry editorials in American newspapers of thirty years ago that appeared to be unaware that the Republic of Ireland was an independent state. Colonel Gaddafi of Libya – now there’s a name from the past, wonder what happened to him? – at one time was visited by a delegation of Protestant paramilitaries who convinced him that this was not a straightforward anti-Imperialist struggle and got him to cease sending arms to the IRA.

I think a few of the commenters to this article still literally do not know of the existence of the Protestant population. If they do know of it, they ain’t showing it.

The ignorance that is rational for individuals can do great harm.

What are your experiences of spectacular historical ignorance? What effect does that ignorance have? To count, examples should not be the ignorance of the illiterate and semi-literate. There are millions on Earth who do not know the world is round. That is sad but not interesting. What is sad but interesting is the state of those for whom some basic historical fact is an “unknown unknown”, to use Rumsfeld’s formulation.

On second thoughts, why confine ourselves to history? A Scottish friend of mine relates that some of people she talks to in her part of the world literally think that the financial crisis of 2008 arose because bankers took “all the money” for bonuses. They think the government could get all the money back and make everything OK again, had it but the willpower. Discussing the matter, she modified that slightly, and said that if these friends and acquaintances were ever to articulate the idea I have just described they would probably see that it could not be correct, but they never have articulated it. This is in a Labour-voting but by no means deprived area near Glasgow, but I would not bet on the proportion of people thinking thus in my Tory part of Essex being much different, for all that ‘banksters’ keep the local economy going.

These holes in peoples’ knowledge will have their effect in the end. One could call it trickle-up ignorance.

Discussion Point XXXIII

The IMF auditors have arrived in Dublin. What should Ireland do now?

Five years after the Irish smoking ban the Irish are smoking more than ever

According to Allison Bray writing in the Irish Independent the smoking rate in Ireland has soared despite the Irish smoking ban.

Despite hikes in tobacco tax, the smoking ban and a new law against the public display of cigarettes for sale, the number of smokers has steadily risen since 2007 when 29pc of the population smoked.

The survey, which was conducted between March and September, revealed the largest group of smokers — 45pc — is aged between 16 and 30.

I wonder if “despite” should actually be “because of”, though I am not sure why that should be.

The Irish Independent article is actually over a year old, but still of interest, I thought. I found it via a comment from Dave Atherton to this post by Mahendra Jadeja at Big Brother Watch.

“Genuine communication by the European Union cannot be reduced to the mere provision of information.”

Is this how the EU got a Yes to Lisbon from the Irish? asks Mary Ellen Synon in the Irish Daily Mail, reprinted in the British one.

Ireland and the other eurozone countries might be suffering savage spending cuts, but the EU self-publicity budget thrives: in 2008 the Open Europe think-tank calculated that the EU was spending at least €2 billion a year on ‘information’.

Much of it bent, which is to say, propaganda. The commission actually admits that its information is bent. One of its publications declares: ‘Genuine communication by the European Union cannot be reduced to the mere provision of information’.

Perish the thought! Reducing communication to mere provision of information might mean that journalists got a handful of leaflets rather than a stay at the…

Hotel Manos Stephanie (‘the Louis XV furniture, marble lobby and plentiful antiques set a standard of elegance rarely encountered,’ the hotel brags, and so it should since the rate is listed at €295 a night for a single room).

Irish self defence

I’ve had a busy day, so do not have time for much Samizdata-ing, but I think that most of us will be agreeing that this is quite good news:

Irish homeowners can now legally use guns to defend themselves if their homes are attacked under new legislation.

Yes it’s not good when your home gets “attacked under new legislation”. Sorry. Carry on.

The new home defense bill has moved the balance of rights back to the house owner if his home is broken into “where it should always have been”, say top Irish police.

The police association of superintendents and inspectors, the AGSI, stated that “the current situation, which legally demands a house owner retreat from an intruder, was intolerable”.

I know, I know, it probably doesn’t go far enough, but it is a step in the right direction. I particularly like what “AGSI” said. Wish we had something like AGSI here. Our policemen have the default position which just goes: leave everything to us sir. As in: leave everything to us and if you dare to do anything except surrender, just because we only got there a day late, we’ll arrest you.

Thank you Guido, where this piece is currently number two on his list of “Seen Elsewhere” stuff.

The state fines businesses for recycling

Shane Greer reports on his attempt to get Westminster City Council to recycle business waste. It turns out that the council, while willing to collect his office’s waste, will not recycle any of that waste – and will fine him if he puts his waste in recycling facilities aimed at domestic users. That sounds awfully like punishing businesses that try to be green.

The problem with councils running recycling services is that they are inefficient and fail to innovate. They use outdated methods that are expensive, and end up recycling in the same way as British Leyland used to make Austin Minis (at a loss).

In large parts of Ireland, a recent report by Gordon Hector points out, the state has let the free market deal with refuse collection: individual customers choose from private companies and pay directly, rather than through council tax. Competition has meant that technologies and methods unknown in the UK have been deployed. Greyhound, one of Ireland’s larger waste companies, recycles 87% of the rubbish it receives (because recycling is good for its profits). The best-performing council in the UK only recycles 55% of waste; the lowest 11%.

This might not compute with environmental activists, but yet again we see that the free market is greener than state control.

– Update: On another brain-dead environmental issue, have a look what the council at Basingstoke is doing to destroy the local environment and harm taxpayers simultaneously, by pushing development into the beautiful Lodden Valley, instead of on the bod-standard land it already owns in Manydown.

Freedom of movement – “secure beneath the watching eyes”

Anyone worried by Natalie’s posting below should be aware that you ain’t seen nuttin’ yet. Tom Griffin of The Green Ribbon has obtained a full listing of the information it is intended to collect (and distribute among various authorities) concerning those buying tickets to move from any one of Britain, the Irish Republic, and Northern Ireland to any of the others.

There has been a common travel area since St Patrick, and this was formalised in the 20th century when the countries of Britain and Ireland came incompletely apart. Now it seems both governments are in effect conspiring to introduce internal passports and replace a common travel area with a common surveillance area.

[hat-tip: spyblog]

Irish Liberty Forum

Some fine folks have set up a message board called the Irish Liberty Forum for anybody interested in libertarian ideas, with a focus on Ireland (the name is a dead give away). So… check it out and feel free to report on the quality of conversation.

Now that the Freedom Institute is sadly defunct (it went belly up last year), there is great need for some genuine pro-liberty voices in Ireland to counter the paleo-Marxist Indymedia crap that seems to be in such evidence there.

I disagree with what you wear, but will defend your right to do so

There’s a new social trend in Belfast whereby women are dropping their children off to school still in their pajamas. This has got the local worthies of Belfast worried, and a little peeved.

In a bulletin to parents, Mr McGuinness wrote: “Over recent months the number of adults leaving children at school and collecting children from school dressed in pyjamas has risen considerably.

“While it is not my position to insist on what people wear, or don’t, I feel that arriving at the school in pyjamas is disrespectful to the school and a bad example is set to children.”

Women walking round Belfast estates in all-day pyjama gear is a phenomenon that has been well documented by Robin Livingstone, a columnist in the Andersonstown News, but until now it has been confined to the west of the city.

Mr Livingstone said that he first identified All Day Pyjama Syndrome (ADPS) in 2003. He knows a student at the Belfast Institute for Further and Higher Education who is writing a dissertation on the subject.

The women are colloquially known as “pyjama mamas” or “Millies”. Their pyjama ensembles are often complemented by large, gold hoop earrings known as “budgies” – because such cage birds could swing from them. They also sport “scrunchies” to create the “Turf Lodge facelift”, in which the hair is scraped so tightly to the back of the head that it pulls the facial skin taut.

There is even a dress hierarchy among those suffering from APDS: the wearing of silk-effect, baggy pyjamas with fluffy, mule-type slippers contrasts, for example, with the traditional dressing gown and hair rollers.

Bloggers, who of course are famous for working in their pajamas, should rally around the millies, and defend their right to drop off their offspring at school, no matter how unsightly it may appear.

First they came for the millies….

Health insurance takes a turn for the worse

The Irish government has this week succeeded in their plans to help restore a monopoly in health insurance, as the main private insurer was yesterday forced to withdraw from business, leaving the state behemoth with only one tiny rival left to prevent it from controlling the market. Risk equalisation payments which cost them a million €uro every week left BUPA with no choice but to leave.

For those unacquainted with the health insurance market, risk equalisation is a device designed to underpin community rating: a regulation of health insurance whereby the level of risk a consumer poses to an insurer must not affect the premium paid; i.e. everyone must be offered the same products at the same price regardless of their age, gender, or personal health characteristics. A sceptical observer might wonder why a healthy young person should have to pay the same as a sick geriatric, or in what sense this is really insurance at all. Well, the justification given is that, without this scheme, and the associated regulations of lifetime cover and open enrolment, no-one would be willing to offer sick or old people a health plan they could afford. Therefore, the argument goes, it is acceptable that young people are overcharged in order to prevent this. Community rating is designed to produce inter-generational subsidies, and is a clear example of cradle-to-grave statism.

However, community rating alone does not fully prevent competition – it is possible for more than one insurance company to offer community-rated products simultaneously, as indeed was the case in Ireland for the last ten years. It’s a heavily regulated market (imagine if car insurers were not allowed to discriminate according to the risk profile and vehicles of their customers, or house insurance had to ignore the likelihood of flooding or earthquakes in any particular area), but we proved that it can exist sustainably.

So, to really cut out competition, there are several other things you have to do. The first thing that the Irish government did for the last number of years was to give its dominant state provider preferential treatment with respect to the requirements of its solvency reserves. While that did hurt the private operators, it did not totally force them out of business. So our supposedly pro-market government decided to trigger risk equalisation: a device which is theoretically meant to correct discrepancies between customer bases by forcing insurers with younger customers to subsidise their rivals with older, costlier, riskier members. In our case, what it actually did was threaten the main private insurer with having to subsidise its wealthy state rival with nearly three times its operating profits, for little discernible reason and despite clear, logical protests from professional economists in Ireland’s major universities (for example listen to this file).

The result of all of this: BUPA is forced to quit, leaving increased power to the state company. According to leaked documents, this company is preparing to increase its premiums by 15% each year over the next three years, clearly exploiting its position of power to the fullest. The public has been duped, and has absolutely no clue.

What’s more, no-one is going to stand up for them. An Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Bertie Ahern revealed his lack of understanding of the issues by launching an ignorant attack against BUPA. The powerful trade union controlling the state monopoly then announced that it would fight against any efforts to break up this company into competing units. And the mainly left-wing opposition has, predictably, come up short in its handling of this issue.

My question is this: what would you call a private business that was able to intimidate and then forcefully eliminate anyone who dared to compete with it? That’s right, you would call it a highly organised criminal outfit. So why is the government any different?

A hot day in Belfast

Although I have lived in Belfast for a very long time, I have rarely written about it, primarily because of hate-mongering gits who turn any mention of Northern Ireland into an excuse for personal attack and pointless flaming. So… if you are one of them, go away. This article will bore you and any attempt to discuss politics will be deleted on sight.

Few of our readers have the slightest knowledge of Belfast outside of what is written over drinks in the Europa Hotel bar or from live media feeding frenzies where a handful of rioters get photographed, filmed and interviewed by a small army of bleeding-lede starved media mavens. This creates a distorted view of our town and has virtually no relationship to the daily lives of anyone who lives here. The ‘exciting’ Belfast is long gone. This is not to say we do not have some problems with hooligans, particularly around July 12th…

Photo: Dale Amon, all rights reserved
Reporters at the Europa missed this one!

What the reporters do not bother to show you is that this is an incredibly beautiful place. When we get a perfect day like today, It is simply stunning. That is what this article is about. Nothing newsworthy. Nothing political. I simply went shopping, about a mile or two of walking on foot, and took a few photos to share with you. Since the small size allowable on the front page does not do the images justice, I have made them clickable for those who really want to get the full impact of the high resolution images.

Photo: Dale Amon, all rights reserved

The geography of Belfast is dominated by the Belfast Lough and the hills on either side.


Photo: Dale Amon, all rights reserved
There are a fair few churches about.


Photo: Dale Amon, all rights reserved
Even a wee neighborhood shopping center looks nice in the summer sunlight.


Photo: Dale Amon, all rights reserved
There are parks and parklets everywhere.


Photo: Dale Amon, all rights reserved
There is a bird sanctuary just the other side of this railway bridge.


Photo: Dale Amon, all rights reserved

If you had any doubts about the location of these photos, the Hercules and Goliath cranes at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in the far distance beyond the bird blanketed tidal flats would dispel it.

If there is any point to this article other than a hot day diversion, it is that journalists are trained to see and report what is ugly and mean in life while bloggers are free to show what is fun and beautiful and good with nary a worry about getting sacked for it.

Now… where did I put those extra icecube trays?